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Why do I keep getting sick? Part 1

March 16, 2012 2 comments

By: Dr. Justin Marchegiani

The winter time is unlike any time throughout the year.  We have extra stressors around us all the time including the holidays which include shopping, changes in weather including less sunlight, and increased consumption of sugar and processed foods from all the desserts and holiday goodies.

I am going to try to keep things simple so after reading this post you’ll have some excellent action items (AI) you can then use to apply to your health and for those interested some additional information on your immune system so you can understand how things work better.

Your immune system has two branches, you can think of it like a seesaw, as one goes up one goes down.  Understanding the basics will help you understand how these changes are affecting your body.    If this is too much info, just skip down to the action items for the meat and potatoes.

Immune system:  To keep things simple, you have two sides of your immune, TH1 & TH2

TH1:  This side is provides the front-line military defense for bacteria, virus and other pathogens trying to gain access to our bodies.

TH2:  This side is primarily responsible for making antibodies (soldiers that are specific to whatever is making us sick) to the various bacteria, virus and pathogens that have already invaded our body.  In other words, this provides the back-up defense for our body when we have already been compromised.  Vaccines work on this branch, more on this on a separate post!

It usually takes about 1 week for our TH2 side to get ramped up or i.e.  It takes about 1 week for the back-up soldiers to get called into action to help us out.  That’s why the average cold lasts about 1 week.   In summary the Th1 side is the wall that prevent things from coming in and TH2 side are the backup soldiers there to help in-case the bad guy break through the wall

Alright so after learning a little bit more about your immune system, the suggestions I am making below should now make a little more sense to you.  I am going to break up my recommendations into two categories, diet & lifestyle, and supplementation.  The first post will be on diet and lifestyle!

Diet & Lifestyle:  Actions Items

1.  Sleep:  Sleep is the primary time where your immune system recharges.  Our bodies are naturally on a light and dark cycle, so the prime time to tap into natural repair is right around 10pm.  At this time our body is making human growth hormone (which helps repair our body) and is going through a process known as cellular autophagy which is repairing our immune system.  Sleep deprivation is considered by the WHO as the only non-substance carcinogen in the same league as cigarettes and asbestos.  AI:  Sleep before 10pm and make sure it’s  in a dark environment.

2.  Vitamin D:  With less sunlight our body has less ability to make vitamin-d on our own.  So if you live in a warmer climate in the winter time get some healthy sun exposure without burning.  For the rest it will be a necessity to rely on a vitamin D3 supplement, stay tuned to the supplement post coming later!

3.  Avoid sugar:  According to John Briffa MD and Paul Chek 1 tsp. of sugar will inhibit your immune system for up to 4 hours.  So do yourself a favor and avoid sugar, which includes grains, starches alcohol and wine.  in the end all of these items are broken down by your body into sugar.  PS:  There are 10 tsp’s of sugar in 1 can of coke which can potentially decrease your immune function for almost 2 days!   Diet coke is not a good alternative either.   AI:  Healthy organic meats and vegetables especially cooked in a crock pot can be really helpful, chicken soup (minus the noodles), grandmas everywhere would be so proud!

4.  Listen to your body:  Your body will tell you when it’s starting to get sick.   Your energy will start to decline; you may start to feel a slight twinge in the back of your throat as well.  “If you can listen to your bodies’ whispers, you won’t have to endure its cries…”

This isn’t a time to be tough and power through it.  Your immune system takes a lot of energy when it ramps up the TH1 side to  fight an infection.  Instead of fighting your immune system, try a more gentle approach like a lite yoga session, a walk, or even take an off day and try to get some extra rest.

5.  Sauna session:  Your body will naturally try to increase its body temperature to increase the effectiveness of the TH1 side of the immune system .  This is why a fever can be a very beneficial thing, as long as the fever isn’t going >105 F there really is no need to worry. AI: You can mimic this state naturally with a sauna session which can help get your immune system ready to go!

6.  Hydration:  I recommend increasing your water consumption during these sick times.  ½ your body weight in ounces is a good baseline, so even a little more can helpful.  Teas can be good to, just avoid the ones with caffeine.  AI: Drink up “The solution to pollution is dilution!”

7.  Manage stress:  Stress comes in many shapes and sizes, emotional, physical, and chemical.  The above suggestions already address the chemical and physical but the emotional is not something we have dealt with yet.   Research has shown that after a fight with a spouse your immune system can be weakened for up to 2 days (1).   AI:  Avoid unnecessary stress-full conflict with your signifcant other when feeling under the weather.

8.  Wash your hands:  This is the main vehical in which viruses and other bad guys are transferred.  Washing your hands throughout the day can decrease the spread of these pathogens.

9.  Introduce fermented foods into your diet.  A real easy way to do this is start consuming sauerkraut or kimchi from your local health food store.  The fermentation processes, the way in which these foods are prepared produce beneficial bacteria (pro-biotics) which have an important role in your gut health.  70% of your immune cells are located in you gut (MALT & GALT), the healthier your gut, tthe healthier you immune system.  Anti-biotics can destroy the beneficial bacteria that we get from probiotics and fermeneted food, that’s why anti-biotics should be a last resort.

Important point, antibiotics do not  make your immune system stronger they just kill the bad guys that are making you sick.  All of the suggestions mentioned in this blog post will increase your immune function thus helping your immune system to kill off all of these bad bugs on your own.  A little help from supplements can’t hurt either!   More on pro-biotics in part 2!

Stay tuned for part 2 on immune boosting supplements!

Reference:

1. Stress-Induced Immune Dysregulation: Implications for Wound Healing, Infectious Disease and Cancer: Jonathan P. Godbout and Ronald Glaser